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Our review of Love Hurts (1991), published March 18th, 2006, is also available.
A painfully romantic comedy
Tom Robbins organized his 1980 novel Still Life with Woodpecker around the question of how to make love stay. The fact that it sustained an entire novel shows that it's a big, and almost certainly important, question—but it's one that doesn't get a lot of attention. Instead, our culture (especially Hollywood) offers us countless images of how to fall in love, so many that falling in love has become a kind of easy cliché. We've all learned what to do when waking up with someone for the first time, but very few films address what to do when waking up with the same person for the ten thousandth time. Love Hurts gets some points for trying to address this issue, contrasting a relationship between a middle-aged couple with the blossoming love of their son, but can't quite overcome a predictable plot and uneven tone.
Ben Bingham (Richard E. Grant, Withnail and I) is a successful Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor who dismissed his early dreams of saving the world to take over his uncle's practice. Now he's settled comfortably into middle age, with a son (Johnny Pacar, Wild Child) about to go to college and a wife (Carrie-Anne Moss, Memento) who works with plants. His life is thrown into tumult when his wife leaves him, and to win her back he accepts the advice of his son to better himself. What transpires is a comic look at one man's quest to win back his love.
I knew Love Hurts was in trouble from the very first scene as the credits rolled. Beneath the names of those involved in the film we're treated to a pair of young people in sepia tones cavorting on a beach, obviously very much in love. It's a lazy, generic way to set up past bliss and tells us almost nothing about the characters who will be the center of the film. In fact, it almost looks like a parody of a perfume commercial. The film maintains this level of predictable generality throughout. Hoping to turn his life around, Ben hits the gym for some embarrassing fun, and there's the totally unnecessary karaoke scene. To parallel Ben's own self-discovery, his son must also fall in love with an unattainable Russian dancer to throw Ben's troubles into relief. Naturally, this relationship (again) ends predictably.
Predictable wouldn't be horrible if the film could get its tone under control. Sometimes it wants to be a farcical almost-slapstick film, while other times it strains for a kind of weary poignancy. The breakneck shifts are awkward and don't allow the film to commit to any one idea. Thus the comedy doesn't have the support of properly drawn characters, and the silly comedy undermines the pathos the drama is reaching for.
The DVD package continues the film's wishy-washy state. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer has some strong black levels and bright colors, but there are significant problems with shimmer and pixilation. It's not horrible, but could look better. The audio is fine, with strong dialogue from the center channel, but the surrounds don't have much to do. The extras start with 30 minutes of cast/crew interview, and all are far kinder with the material than it warrants. We are also treated to 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and the film's trailer.
Love might hurt, but not all is lost with this film. Even the lackluster script can't keep Richard E. Grant down. For my money he still plays the best drunk in the business, and he gets his best scenes of inebriation here since his breakout performance as Withnail. Even when he's not drunk he's so committed to the role that it's hard not to wish it was in a better film. Grant's character gets to run the gamut from total freakouts to charming, and even though the film's final note rings hollow Grants wet eyes and bruised timidity almost save it. He's joined by a game cast of other fine performers. Jenna Elfman comes in as his nurse, and the scene she shares dancing with Grant is both brave and silly. The always dependable Janeane Garofalo appears as an employee at the gym Ben joins. She's humorously manic and seems to enjoy the role. Carrie-Anne Moss is amazing as Amanda. So amazing in fact that she seems imported from another movie. She's playing Amanda as an emotionally bruised wife with the weight of decades of disappointment on her shoulders, while the film rewards her by putting her scenes between poor comedy. It's a waste, really.
Love Hurts is not a great romantic comedy. In fact, it's quite painful. Only the most serious devotees of the actors should even consider renting this one. Everyone else should give it a pass unless it comes on cable while you're too sick to change the channel.
Love Hurts really hurts. Guilty.
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